Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission Member Mark Weissman Fined $2,500 for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law
According to the Disposition Agreement, Weissman has served as an unpaid member of the MFC since he was appointed by the Governor in 1993. In 2001, Cape Wind Associates proposed to construct a wind farm consisting of approximately 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. Cape Wind Associates sought numerous permits and approvals from state and federal authorities The Alliance is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the long-term preservation of Nantucket Sound. The Alliance was formed in 2001 and has been the central opponent of the Cape Wind Project (the Project).
On several occasions from 2002 through 2007, Weissman participated as an MFC member relative to the Project by requesting that the MFC send letters to other agencies or by testifying before federal or state agencies reviewing the project.
In 2003, Weissman began providing paid consultant services to the Alliance. Since 2003, Weissman received approximately $48,000 for various work performed for the Alliance, of which approximately $8,000 was in relation to the Alliance. Alliance paid Weissman more than $2,000 for reviewing and formulating comments regarding joint environmental review documents published by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office, and/or the Cape Cod Commission.
Section 4(a) of G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, prohibits a state employee, otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duties, from receiving or requesting compensation from anyone other than the Commonwealth or a state agency, in relation to any particular matter in which the Commonwealth or a state agency is a party or has a direct and substantial interest Section 4(a) applies less restrictively to special state employees, MFC members are special state employees. A special state employee is subject to the prohibitions of 4(a) only in relation to a particular matter (a) in which he has at any time participated as a state employee, or (b) which is or within one year has been a subject of his official responsibility, or (c) which is pending in the state agency in which he is serving.
Weissman participated as an MFC member in matters pertaining to the Project. By also receiving over $8,000 from the Alliance for his services in connection with the Alliance.
Section 23(b)(3) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a public employee from knowingly, or with reason to know, acting in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. Section 23(b)(3) further provides that it shall be unreasonable to so conclude if the public employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion.
Weissman repeatedly participated as an MFC member in matters of interest to the Alliance while he had a significant private business relationship with the Alliance. By so participating, Weissman acted in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, knowing all the relevant circumstances, to conclude that the Alliance could improperly influence Weissman in the performance of his official duties. While Weissman verbally discussed his consultant activities for the Alliance at MFC meetings, at no time did he make a written disclosure to the Governor, Weissman's appointing authority, of his paid consulting relationship with the Alliance. Therefore, Weissman violated § 23(b)(3).
"Although the conflict of interest law is generally less restrictive for special state employees, special state employees must be careful not to mix their private business with the business of the state agency in which they serve," said Commission Executive Director Karen L. Nober. "Such situations involve the potential for divided loyalties, which undermines the public's confidence in government."